Authors: J. C. Daniels
Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #Vampires, #Tagline… A knife in the dark
That wasn’t my grandmother’s voice…
“Come on, baby girl…”
was in my head, her voice all but shrieking.
He will not
with you. How can he
He needs somebody to match his own strength
All but dying inside.
A snarl echoed through the air. Loud, intense.
This time, her voice was fainter.
I felt a hand at my wrist. Squeezing. Tight, too tight, until I could feel the bones grinding together.
“Wake up, baby,” he whispered. “Come back to me.”
Damon. It was Damon’s voice.
I clung to it. Flexed my wrist and focused on the heat centered there. He was there. He was there.
And I could damn well wake up.
I am aneira
And I damn well wasn’t going to let that evil bitch beat me. Not in a dream.
“Come on, Kit. That’s it…”
I came awake to feel his hands stroking up and down my back. Strong and steady.
Raggedly, I gulped in air, trying to breathe.
His arms tightened. “Yeah. Tell me about it.” One hand cradled the back of my head. “You wouldn’t wake up, Kit. Thirty minutes. I’ve been trying to wake you up for thirty minutes.”
I pressed my face against his neck and breathed in the scent of him. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t.” He pulled my head back and the sight of the fury in his eyes was like a fire on my skin. “You don’t spend thirty minutes trapped in a nightmare where I can’t help you and then tell
you’re sorry. Damn it, Kit. Of all the things I can kill for you…I can’t kill your past.”
“No.” I leaned in, snuggling against him. I was so damned cold and the heat of him was like heaven. “You can’t do that.”
His hand tangled in my hair, absently kneading at my scalp for a moment while his arm other wrapped around my waist. “I don’t care if I can do it or not…it’s what I
Closing my eyes, I sighed and just breathed him in.
Yeah. I wished he could, too. I wished we
could. There was no exorcising these ghosts, though. No killing the memories. You can’t kill memories or ghosts like this—all you can do is deal with them.
Long moments passed before the shaking stopped. Eventually, the cold knot of fear inside me eased and I could breathe. I lifted my head enough to glance at the clock and then I dropped my head down on his shoulder with a groan. If I managed to get anymore sleep tonight, it would be a miracle. It was almost four. I guess I ought to be glad I got the four or five hours I’d managed.
Lifting my head, I peered at Damon through my lashes. He was ridiculously alert, but that wasn’t a surprise. Shifters didn’t need sleep the way humans did. And although I wasn’t completely human, I did have some of the more basic human needs. Including the need for a little more sleep. Okay, maybe I just
a little more sleep.
Lifting my head, I braced an elbow on his shoulder and shifted around until I was settled with one thigh on either side of his hips. In the dim light, his dark gray eyes were almost black. I stroked a finger across his lips and trailed it down his neck, along the line of his shoulder until I hit the dense, heavy lines of his tattoos.
They had been laid on his skin in his youth, before he’d spiked. Before a shifter hit their first shift, they healed just a little faster than humans. If it had been done after, his body would have just absorbed it.
The dense, heavy ink had always mesmerized me and tonight, I focused on it like a drowning man needed a preserver. “What’s all of this mean?” I asked him, splaying my hand out over it.
He covered his hand with mine. “What makes you think it means anything?”
“Tattoos hurt,” I said pointedly. “And this took a while.” All that heavy inking would have taken hours, I suspected. “Somehow, I don’t think you did it just to impress the ladies or to look tough.”
He snorted. “If you’d seen me when I had it done, you might change your mind. I needed all the help I could get when it comes to looking tough. Not that a tattoo would have done it.”
“You didn’t look tough, huh?”
“Scrawniest, most pathetic runt around.” He lifted my hand and kissed it, before lowering it back to his chest. “Remember how Doyle looked in the pictures I showed you?”
“Yeah.” Skinny. Rail-thin skinny, too. Like he wouldn’t have stood up had a stiff wind come along.
look tough.” He skimmed a thumb along one area of the tattoo and said, “I had her use charm-infused ink. Wanted to make sure it would hold, although she still couldn’t promise it would.”
“So it means something.”
“Yeah.” He rolled his head over and stared at me from under his lashes. “It’s the story of me…what put me on the road that made me what I am. I wanted it written someplace so I’d never forget. I knew it was going to be a long, long walk…I had a goal, things I had to do, and I still have to get them done. I can’t let myself forget. But I can’t talk about it yet.”
Studying his face, I stroked my thumb over the hard line of his mouth. “I don’t think I’m the only one with nightmares.”
“Nobody ever did the things to me that were done to you,” he said quietly.
“Nightmares come in a lot of different forms.” I leaned back in, curled against him. It was early. Too early to get up, too late to really go back to sleep. Seemed to make sense that I just stay right there for a while, wrapped around him.
“We’ve both had enough nightmares maybe.” He stroked a hand down my site and cuddled me close. “It’s time for something different, I think. Why don’t we focus on that?”
“Hmmm.” Closing my eyes, I snuggled in closer. “Yeah. We can focus simple stuff. Nice stuff. Normal stuff.”
The rumble of his chuckle echoed under my ear and he swatted my butt. “Don’t go getting all carried away. We wouldn’t know normal if it bit us. But it might be nice to have something…well, nice.”
“Yeah.” Sleep was actually closer than I thought, I realized, but I forced my eyes opened, stared outside. “Nice… what’s nice and normal?”
“Christmas…you ever do Christmas, Kit?” His hand stroked my nape.
I snorted. “Hell, no. The aunts and Grandmother celebrated the solstice and I’d helped in the house, but I don’t think that’s the same as doing Christmas.” I rolled my head to peer up at him through my lashes. “What about you?”
“Yeah.” He stroked a finger along my cheek. “We always did it, just me and the kid.” His hand slid into my hair and tangled. “You’re going to do Christmas this year. With me.”
I lifted up a little to look at him. “I am, huh?”
“Yeah.” He lifted up onto one elbow and pressed his mouth to mine. “Nice, normal…it doesn’t get much more nice and normal than that.”
“Christmas, huh?” I lay my head back on his chest, smiling a little. “Are we going to get a tree?”
“Damn straight…a tree. I’ll buy you presents. You can buy something, too. I think something red and slinky, like all those lingerie things you look at and never buy.”
Sleep tugged at me harder but I found myself smiling. “You’d look funny in a red lace teddy, Damon.”
I think he might have kissed me.
I know I heard him whisper something. But I don’t know what he said. I’d already tumbled back down into sleep.
This time, there were no dreams.
* * * * *
“Doyle was in here.”
I was down in my gym. Damon hadn’t made a sound, but I’d known he was coming. I’d felt the burn of him on my skin. He could lash that energy down, but lately, even when he was playing at being human, I knew when he was near me.
I lowered my blade and turned, staring at him as he stood in the doorway, a frown on his face. “You’re the one who sent him over here to check up on me. Of course, he was here.”
“I wanted him to make sure you were okay,” Damon snapped. “I didn’t tell him to…”
He trailed off, glaring at me.
“Check up on me?” I swiped my forearm across my brow before the sweat could get into my eyes. “Damon, I really wish the lot of you could get one thing through your heads…I’ve been taking care of myself for a damn long time. I don’t need babysitters.”
A muscle jerked in his jaw.
I sighed and turned away, staring at the mirrors as I lifted my blade again.
“Why was he down here?” Damon asked.
I smirked as I lifted the blade again.
“Want an answer?”
“If I didn’t want one, I wouldn’t ask.”
I met his eyes in the mirror as I drew the blade down in a diagonal cut. “Maybe I should make you fight me for it.”
He gave me a pained look.
I laughed. Sparring with Damon was fun. He had to keep the brakes on, something we both knew but when he was keeping the brakes on, he couldn’t keep up with me. Meaning I kicked his ass.
Damon was a decent sparring partner but he’d never be a swordsman.
“I’ll tell you what…I’ll answer the question, if you’ll agree to do me a favor.” I finished the attack pattern and then turned to him, smiling a little.
He wasn’t looking at my face.
Clearing my throat, I waited until his gaze shifted from my breasts upward. “You are such a man,” I muttered.
A faint grin tugged at his lips and he shrugged. Then he crossed his arms over his chest. “You know, I could just make Doyle tell me.”
“But you asked me. And I can tell you. Right now…exactly what you want to know, for a favor. All you have to do is something that’s completely within your power to give,” I said. I banished my blade. Her sheath was on one of the weapons tables and she settled there, quiet and quiescent as I strolled over to stand a few feet in front of Damon.
“Stop.” I studied his face, wondering if he’d understand what I was asking when I didn’t fully
all of it myself. “Just…stop, Damon.”
A muscle pulsed in his cheek.
“You’re standing there worrying because you’re thinking Doyle could hurt me,” I said softly. “He’s still young and new enough in his skin that I can handle him…and you know it.”
Lashes drooped over his eyes.
“It would take blood and pain on both our parts, but I could do it. Plus…” I shrugged restlessly. “The kid hates me, but he trusts and loves you, so you need to trust him and stop worrying he’s going to hurt me. Trust both of us.”
“Fine,” he bit off.
“That’s not all.”
Gray eyes narrowed.
“It’s a bulk sort of favor.”
“I only asked one fucking question.”
I grinned at him. “Maybe I’ll work out naked next time.”
“Shit.” He turned around. “What the hell.”
“You need to quit worrying about me so much. I saw you looking at Chang last night and I already know what you were thinking. You wanted to know why in the hell he hadn’t been the one to handle the rats,” I said.
“He was the strongest one in there. It was his responsibility,” Damon argued.
“But I was the one they decided to take exception with.” I shoved a hand through my hair, staring at the weapons that decorated my walls. Because I felt better when I was touching something, I moved to the wall and took down one of the knives. I started to toss it, up and down, watching until it was a blur above my hand. “If it had been anybody else in there, would you have
The silence was enough of an answer.
“And you knew, from the second you walked in, that I had it handled, right?”
“I think I made it clear that I knew you did.”
“Then why was it a problem that I
As he turned to look at me, I caught the blade by the handle and met his gaze.
problem,” he said quietly. “It’s mine. And we both know that.”
“I’m just asking you to let me be who I am. What I am…without worrying so much.”
My heart raced so hard, so fast.
He stared at me.
Finally, he looked away. “I can’t stop worrying. But I won’t change who you are, either, baby girl. I’ll work on it. Like I said…it’s my problem.”
It might not sound like a lot, but I knew Damon. He didn’t make concessions easily. If he said he’d work on it, then that was exactly what he’d do.
“Your kid has a fascination with sharp, shiny objects,” I said, returning the knife to the wall. “It almost seems to match mine. I suffered a temporary break from sanity and asked him if he wanted to spar.”
Damon turned around, storms gathering in those amazing eyes of his. “You
“Watch the tone, cat,” I warned him. “I can take that kid, blindfolded.”
“Not if he loses it.”
“Yes. I can…and this isn’t working on it. Remember that?”
He stared at me, the heat of his anger pounding against my skin.
But he said nothing.
Ahhh…maybe this was the start of a change? I could hope. “The kid is good for somebody who’s never been trained at all. Natural talent. If he didn’t hate my guts…”
I finished with a shrug.
“Anyway, he asked if he could come by again, but I told him no. Contrary to what so many think, I’m not a fool. He learns fast and I’m not going to give him the training to learn something he could maybe use against me.”
“I thought you said he’d control that,” Damon said, his voice flat.
“And I think he will…but even I know when to exercise caution.”
* * * * *
I know when to exercise caution.
That was why I went straight to the office. I hadn’t forgotten about yesterday and Justin’s message and his promise to track me down. My lip curled as I thought about it. Track me down, huh? Did he really think it’d be
Still, I wasn’t going to jerk him around. As much fun as
could be, I’d be better off to see what he wanted during business hours, so I could just shut him up and move him along while I could.
Somehow, I didn’t think it would go over well with Damon if I took a job with Justin. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t worry about it, but having a boyfriend who happened to be a shifter…well, those weren’t normal circumstances. Actually, nothing in my life is normal so this isn’t much of an issue, really.